I’d made plans for August Bank Holiday nine months ago. Back in November, I purchased tickets for the One day International game that Bristol was about to host and it felt right to set aside this day for the noble game of cricket. When the day dawned, despite the predictions of 90-100% chance of rain, we set off for the ground, not far from where we live. We parked the car close to Horfield prison and crossed Gloucester Road to enter Nevil Road, that was closed to traffic. Optimism reigned – signs such as East meets the West Country outside a pub made me laugh, cheerful stall holders selling breakfast baps of bacon and sausage lined the pavements. The closer we got, the Indian tri-colour became more visible and English vendors selling umbrellas with the Indian flag and matching funny hats made me marvel at how convivial it all felt.
There is a special magic in getting inside the ground early – finding your seat whilst the stadium is still quiet – having the time to look at the prepared patch of rectangular brown in the middle of a vast green. The stumps at either end wait in readiness and then the sheer thrill of seeing familiar players close to our end of the field, practicing at nets, or outside, throwing and catching. This is the playful bit before the serious matter of the game begins – a pleasing tableau without the frenetic information the veteran cricketers turned commentators on TV, like to impart, filling the air with an overdose of their personality. This is when the sound of ‘willow thwacking leather’ is a teasing prelude, to what is to follow. Then, it is a symphony which requires constant and instantaneous response – a ripple of applause for an elegant defensive stroke, an encouraging one for a good throw, the deafening roar for a straight six, or for a ball deftly caught from a tremendous height.
The memory of all of these experiences are vivid – from the many visits to Chepauk cricket ground in Chennai, as a teenager, where I can say with pride that I’ve watched the likes of Vivian Richards (Love! Respect!), Gordon Greenidge, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, and Alan Border, to years later to watching the game from the media centre at Lord’s (rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ian Botham, Geoff Boycott and Bob Willis, terrified that I’d be revealed as some sort of fraud, despite my watertight credentials and press ID). Another unforgettable experience was that of blagging a ticket from a listener when I presented an Asian programme on local radio, to the match at Taunton (India v Sri Lanka 1999 World Cup – Give us a smile Saurav!!). I still remember the lovely man with great regard for inviting me and letting me accompany him, his friend and father. Strangers united by our love for the game. After that match, my voice was hoarse, my palms were sore and I’d also made it to paradise when Viv Richards appeared God-like from one of the pavilion balconies at the end of the match.
So in August 2014, as we walked through the dripping turnstiles at the Horfield cricket ground, our tickets already turning soggy, my hopes were buoyed by these pieces of memory that were joyfully popping in, making me feel the thrill of old. Adrenalin threatened to buzz. Fellow supporters who’d showed up seemed evenly matched. English cricket fans are rather nondescript – they sip their full pints of pale ale and cider from the start, are mostly middle-aged men with teenage boys in tow and have a subdued appreciation for the game. On the other side – the Indians turn up as couples and families – plenty of women, some in salwar-kameez and jewellery, others in smart shoes and leather jackets and the older ones in saris, hobbling on weak knees, but here as passionate devotees of cricket. An 84 year old aunt of my husband was texting me from India to keep abreast of the action. There is of course a tribal urge in supporting any team. In the past, I’ve seen British Asian men in kilts and India t-shirts, playing the Indian National Anthem on bagpipes – that day I saw a couple of morose Sikh boys with huge dholkis wrapped in cloth – the drumbeat wasn’t going to be heard as it was all a massive washout.
As we walked out to a neighbouring Italian restaurant (Cibo) for a leisurely lunch, waiting for the official announcement to abandon the game, we ordered a salad tricolore – mozzarella, avocado and tomato. After all the Italian flag also bears the same colours (red, not orange) as the Indian in vertical stripes…it felt sufficient to feast on memory.